Bruce Museum ‘sculpts’ exhibit on Gaston Lachaise

To art fans, Gaston Lachaise was more than a gifted sculptor of the human body. He was considered one of the finest portraitists of his age.

And now the Bruce Museum is paying tribute to his impact with a new exhibit, Face & Figure: The Sculpture of Gaston Lachaise, which opens Saturday, Sept. 22, that features key examples of the artist’s work, many on loan from leading museums, private collections and the Lachaise Foundation.

The museum said this exhibit will “reveal the full range of his vision, with special attention to the fascinating interchange between figural work and portraiture.”

The Bruce’s executive Director, Peter Sutton, said the sculptures of Mr. Lachaise are among the most powerful, recognizable and enduring of the early 20th century.

“The inspired sensuality of his buoyant nudes uplifts us all and the individuality of his portraits achieves an incisive statement of character scarcely rivaled in three dimensions,” Mr. Sutton said. “Face & Figure addresses these two aspects of the sculptor’s work and explores the intersection of their aims.”

Running throughout this contemplative exhibition is the overriding narrative of the obsession Lachaise had with his muse, model and wife, Isabel Dutaud Nagle, who art experts say, inspired him to become that rare exception among artists of the 1920s and ‘30s, an expatriate Frenchman in New York.

Mr. Lachaise’s oeuvre is considered a sustained elaboration of his intense feeling for Ms. Nagle’s beauty.

The series of great nudes that secured his reputation, where the figure is standing on tip-toe, dancing, reclining, floating and even levitating, have been called “meditations on flesh and space.”

According to the exhibition’s curator, Kenneth Silver, a New York University professor of modern art and the Bruce Museum’s adjunct curator, sculptural freedom in the art of Lachaise by no means resides only in the robust sexuality of his nudes.

“It is conveyed, just as powerfully, in the thrilling implication of physical movement with which nearly all his three-dimensional figures are endowed,” Mr. Silver said.

As he curated the exhibition, Mr. Silver said he sought to raise a number of compelling questions.

Does the aesthetic appreciation of the nude rule out a more intense study of personality, and conversely, does portraiture, with its focus on specific character traits, interfere with the pursuit of beauty? What, in fact, did Lachaise intend by portraying critic, historian and founder of the New York City Ballet Lincoln Kirstein nude: a revelation of the young man’s personality, the “naked truth” or a device for distancing us from the specific man by means of an idealized portrayal, free of social trappings?

Was Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Hyatt Mayor right when he said, three years before the sculptor’s death, “In a sense every figure of Lachaise’s is a portrait, an individual struggling against a particular fate”?

These and other compelling issues are explored in Face & Figure: The Sculpture of Gaston Lachaise, which runs through Jan. 6, 2013.

For more information call 203-869-0376 or visit Brucemuseum.org

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